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It was the first Monday of May, and no, I’m not talking about the Met Ball. I had gotten to the end of my birth control pack and realized I had forgotten to order a new one. Instead of trying to get my hands on one that day, I waited until the following morning to start a new month. Foolishly, I didn’t think to take two pills to account for the previous day’s lost estrogen. Boy, did things go left, and fast.
Within days of missing that dose of estrogen, I immediately noticed five inflamed and/or cystic breakouts around my chin and jawline. Face mapping and my general knowledge of skincare told me this area was definitely hormone-related. After getting the breakouts injected with Kenalog, a popular steroid used to decrease the size of cystic breakouts within 24 hours, my skin not only atrophied and got divots, but the scar-looking marks also stayed on my chin for three months, and there was nothing I could do about it.
A Chinese acupuncturist told me to start eating steamed broccoli and cauliflower for my hormones. I decided to research why she recommended those vegetables, and that’s when I learned about hormonal acne supplement Indole 3-Carbinol/DIM. From there, my life changed. To find out exactly how DIM supplements can help treat hormonal acne, we tapped board-certified dermatologist Jessie Cheung.
Meet the Expert
Jessie Cheung is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in surgical and cosmetic procedures.
Keep reading to learn how DIM/I3C treatments can help treat hormonal acne.
Type of ingredient: Supplement.
Main benefits: Decreases sebum production, maintains balanced hormones, regulates periods, relieves menopause symptoms.
Who should use it: In general, those with hormonal acne.
How often can you take it: DIM supplements for acne can be taken daily.
Don’t use with: Water pills, hormone replacement therapy.
What Are DIM and I3C Supplements?
Indole 3-Carbinol, also known as I3C, is a naturally-resulting compound that comes from eating cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. It’s known to stimulate detoxifying enzymes in the gut and liver, and most importantly, it regulates estrogen and androgen.
I3C is the precursor to DIM, which is formed naturally in the body when I3C is digested and metabolized in the gut. Cheung notes that both diindolylmethane and indole-3-carbinol are phytonutrients that support healthy estrogen metabolism and balanced hormones. "As these phytonutrients prevent excess estrogen formation in men and women, they are beneficial to the breast, uterus, cervix, and prostate," she says.
Cheung notes that in addition to helping with hormonal acne, there are several benefits to taking DIM supplements.
- Clears hormonal acne: Hormonal acne appears primary where your androgen receptors are (chin and jawline), but can occur on the sides of your face and down your neck as well. Though there's no scientific evidence that DIM supplements fix or cure hormonal acne, Cheung says they can help. "Hormonal acne results from an imbalance of estrogens and testosterone. DIM and I3C help to maintain this delicate balance, and higher levels of DIM will block androgen pathways to decrease sebum production and acne," she explains.
- May prevent estrogen cancers: Taken as a supplement, I3C studies are increasingly showing its potential strength in preventing the development of estrogen-enhanced cancers. "Since DIM balances estrogen metabolism and receptor activity, and stimulates cellular detoxification, it may help support the prevention of various cancers, including breast, uterine, cervical, and prostate cancers," says Cheung.
- Helps mitigate estrogen dominance: Cheung notes that estrogen dominance can result from poor liver detoxification or obesity, as fat tissue will metabolize testosterone into estrogen. External factors such as birth control, excess meat and dairy, plastics, and other toxins may also contribute to estrogen dominance and resulting symptoms. "Too much estrogen can lead to irregular, heavy periods, weight gain, problems sleeping, fatigue, depression or irritability, and a low libido," says Cheung. "DIM slows down the conversion of testosterone into estrogen, so you'll have fewer symptoms of estrogen dominance."
Are There Any Risks/Side Effects?
You should always consult your dermatologist before taking any supplements or medications to treat any skin condition. Cheung advises avoiding DIM if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. She also notes that while there are few reported side effects from taking DIM, some people may notice darker urine or an upset stomach.
How to Use DIM Supplements For Acne
I’ve been taking oral birth control (microgestrin 1.5/30) for the last three years for endometriosis pain—specifically related to endometriomas (large cysts) on my ovaries. I take birth control pills back-to-back, skipping the placebo weeks to avoid any endometrial lining from shedding, which means I don’t get a period. It’s a short-term solution that’s worked for my very painful long-term problem.
I take two DIM vitamins a day, once in the morning and once at night, and I’ve never had a single hormonal breakout since starting this regimen. Cheung recommends taking 150mg daily, noting that the supplements should be taken longterm, as hormone imbalance will only worsen with age and acne may recur if the hormone-balancing effect of DIM is taken away. As for how long it takes to see results, Cheung says that you may notice a decrease in oil and active cysts within a few weeks, but best results will be after a few months as your skin cycles.
Although there are no official scientific studies at all analyzing I3C or DIM’s effects on acne, there are multiple medical journals, in addition to the ones referenced here, about how I3C and DIM can regulate estrogen. Also, the Internet is littered with testimonials and editorials of women who have sworn by I3C/DIM to cure their hormonal breakouts, and now I’m one of them. Not only has it helped me with hormonal breakouts, it’s helped dozens of my friends, too, and many of them have reported that all of their PMS-related symptoms—like breast tenderness and bloating—have also gone away.
The Best DIM Supplements
If you’re struggling with hormonal acne, check out the below I3C/DIM supplements.
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Patel S, Homaei A, Raju AB, Meher BR. Estrogen: the necessary evil for human health, and ways to tame it. Biomed Pharmacother. 2018;102:403-411. doi:10.1016/j.biopha.2018.03.078
Rajoria S, Suriano R, Parmar PS, et al. 3,3'-diindolylmethane modulates estrogen metabolism in patients with thyroid proliferative disease: a pilot study. Thyroid. 2011;21(3):299-304. doi:10.1089/thy.2010.0245